Saturday, June 24, 2006

Old is the New New

The Trinty Church rises boldly among the steel and stone giants that make up the Financial District at the bottom of Manhattan. In this picture, can you make out the name on the street sign in the foreground? It is New Street.

I love the image! If there is no other, the Church ought to stand as a connection between the new and the old, between the world, even the world of finance, and the Creator.

The emerging church movement, and the positive side of postmodern Christian, make much of bringing the old into the new, or maybe, taking the new to the old.

For many years I had no use for the old, for tradition. Traditions, "we've never done it that way before" thinking, epitomized for me all that was wrong with the church.

I have grown up a bit over the years, and find myself more and more embracing the old, the ancient, even, believe it or not, tradition.

Friday, June 23, 2006

What's the most important part of comedy?

Timing is everything. We went to the Gotham Comedy Club last night to hear the "Master's Show." Five comics, each with more than 20 years of experience performed. I was warned by our tour guide that they might bash Bush, especially once they found out there were Texans in the house.

Our tour guide also told us that one of the times she had gone to the Gotham, Jerry Seinfeld just happened to walk in. He had some new stuff, and this was the place to try it out.

No one famous showed up last night, but from the pictures that lined the hallway going in, everyone in stand-up has been there at one time or another.

New York City is a lot like Stand-up; it's all about timing. I learned that in the subway, Times Square, almost everywhere I've gone. I suppose this is true everywhere, but it is magnified here.

when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. -Galatians 4:4-5

Thursday, June 22, 2006

This city grows on you.

The city that never sleeps starts out relatively slowly in the morning. Everything is relative; If there were this many people walking the sidewalks in McGregor, Waco, or eve Dallas it would be amazing, but compared to the foot traffic of the afternoon/evening/night, this is nothing here. Here.

Yesterday morning I walked down to the UN building. I got there just in time to catch the sun peeking over its shoulder. On my way back to the hotel, I enjoyed the rush of passing through Grand Central Station at the peak of rush hour. I was looking for the S train to take me to a connection at Times Square. It was like no mass of humanity I'd ever been in the midst of.

The crowd was as one exiting or entering a stadium for the world champoinship, except that the crowd was moving. Fast. In all directions. U2's "New York" was blaring in my ipod. Not only was the crowd moving fast in all directions, but people were nearly seamlessly weaving past one another with barely any contact.

What struck me most, though, was that there was no interaction. I was learning to stop bothering to say "excuse me," which I realized is reflex for me. Just keeping, going somewhere.

The only reaction I saw was when a slight woman in front of me didn't quite get out of the way of a rushing man. He knocked her hard to the side, but, a veteran of the subway, she kept moving. The woman walking to my left was close to it, and let out a strong "Jesus!"

That was it. Only one person missed a step in all that, and we all kept going.

I am tempted to dismiss all this frenetic madness and movement with a wave of the hand under the heading of cold lack of caring. Perhaps that is unfair. Perhaps each of these people has somewhere to go, and the focus and drive to get there, no matter what.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The view from 35,000

We have reached our cruising altitude of 35,000 feet on our way to Newark International Airport. Though I have been flying since I was too young to know it, I still enjoy getting a window seat and watching the ground and clouds go by beneath us.

I didn’t get a window seat this time; my daughter did. I can see the distant landscape from here, though, and it is beautiful.

There is something peacefully freeing about seeing the earth from this far up. It is as if problems, difficulties, even disagreements are left way down there. The land rolls between densely developed cities, clearly delineated farmland, and rough, untamed wilderness. But from here, it all holds one thing in common. It is far from me.

Yet, distant as all that is, I am in a plane that has not a single empty seat. I am 35,000 feet above all the cares and concerns of my life, of the world, and still people, each with his or her own story, surround me.

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you're there!
If I go underground, you're there!
If I flew on morning's wings
to the far western horizon,
You'd find me in a minute—
you're already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, "Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I'm immersed in the light!"
It's a fact: darkness isn't dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you
Psalm 139: 7-12, The Message

Reflecting on Youth

Youth will very often live to our expectations.

I returned Saturday from a mission trip to Oklahoma. I shared the floor of a church with about 120 other people for a week as we served people in the Oklahoma City area. Teams went out each morning to build ramps, repair roofs, and touch people’s lives. Each team had two adults and six youth.

One team in particular was interesting to watch during the week, because one of that team’s adults was almost constantly whining about how his kids didn’t know how to do anything, and that they were lazy.

This was my tenth youth mission trip in the past 7 summers. I have been on several different work teams, and in other positions of leadership. I have never before encountered an entire team of ignorant and lazy youth.

For whatever reason, it took me the entire week to realize that in this case, the youth weren’t the problem. The adult was the problem. I suppose I wanted to give the man the benefit of the doubt. I should have given the students the same respect, or more.

Over my 20 years of working with youth, I have learned that, contrary to the attitudes and perspectives of the older generations, most youth want to succeed, do well, be a part of something larger than themselves, and serve others.

This man’s experience with six youth for a week of mission work was exactly what he had expected it to be. In his view young people would rather be playing video games, surfing the internet, or sleeping than anything else. Laying that level of expectation on his team, they lived according to it.

The last time I was on a similar team, The youth took the lead in building a deck with stairs, replacing a door and frame, fixing two windows and repainting the entire house. They didn’t take a step without seeking my approval, but they took the initiative and accomplished most of the work themselves. They lived up to the expectations I had of them.

Youth will very often live down to, or up to, our expectations of them.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Are you tired enough to read this?

I am writing this from Mustang, Oklahoma. I am here with about 130 other youtha nd adults for the 2006 CTCYM Senior High Mission Trip. Following is the devotional I wrote for the work teams for today.

How are you feeling? Are you tired today? It is Wednesday, sometimes called “hump day;” the middle of the week. We are halfway there!
Sometimes Wednesday’s have something happen that frustrates us. We deal with frustration and being tired in a variety of ways. How do you deal with being tired and/or frustrated?

How many of the 10 Commandments can you name? On your best day, how many of them have you kept?

A lot of Christians spend a lot of energy worrying about which commandments they have broken. Most of us are aware, nearly constantly, that we mess up. It makes us tired to think about how many times we have failed or given in to temptation.

Jesus was a rabbi, or teacher. The rabbi’s job was to teach people how to live the way God wanted them to. Each rabbi developed his own set of standards and rules for how his followers, or disciples, could live the way God wanted them to. The set of standards and rules a rabbi taught were called his “yoke.” If a disciple “took on the yoke” of a rabbi, it meant that he or she tried to live the way the rabbi lived and taught.

Jesus said “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Many of the other rabbis of Jesus’ day taught yokes that were hard to follow. They weighed their disciples down with rules and regulations that just wore them out. Then, along comes Jesus, teaching a yoke that is “easy” and “light.”

When you get home, you’ll probably sleep in a little extra for a few days. You may sleep all the way home Saturday. Soon, you will feel well rested. Life will return to normal.

Does “normal” for you mean daily worry about failures and problems? Does “normal” for you mean you worry about whether or not God really does love you and want a friendship with you?

Jesus’ yoke, or way of teaching, is meant to be easy and light, not to weigh you down. It can help with the kind of tired you can’t fight just by sleeping.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Coffee Club

They asked me not to write this, but I’m going to anyway. I occasionally drink coffee with a group of men. I’m there once or twice a week. There have been as many as 9 and as few as 2. I suppose sometimes there is only one there, but that one has never been me so far, so I wouldn’t know for sure.

So far as I can tell, we have not settled any of the pressing issues facing the world. We don’t meet to solve problems or to create them. We don’t really meet to drink coffee. There are even men in the group who don’t drink coffee.

There is no expressed purpose for this group. Some might tell you such gatherings are a waste of time.

Yet on my way to and from this gathering, I inevitably get to greet several other people. Sometimes we’ll stop and chat. Sometimes I am reminded of something I need to do. Sometimes I am reminded of needs and burdens. Sometimes I get to share my needs and burdens.

Then, once the coffee is poured (and I always drink some coffee), anyone can bring up any topic. No one is in charge. No one gets to trump any one else’s opinions, stories, or ideas. Sometimes some of us try.

I wonder what the world would be like if more of us would occasionally take the time to sit and talk over a cup of coffee and not have to agree about everything. Not even the coffee.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Out of Order?

I am one day into the annual session of the Central Texas Conference. So far, so good. There has been the usual mix of meanignful, informative reports, and droning monotony.

Overall, it seems there are signs of life and promise in this particular version of American Denominational Bureaucracy. Patience, my son....

One of the things that I have learned in observing and participating in this and other such organizations, is that Parliamentary Procedure, presented as a tool or process to assure fairness, can easily become a weapon wielded to opppress dissension.

Of course it is not presented as such; the intent is the orderly process of discussion and debate. The assumption is that because it is a process it is neutral, objective, and fair.

With modernity wasting away, though, and increasingly small number of folks expect anything to be neutral, objective and fair. We postmoderns do not accept that there is such a place to stand and judge as neutrality or objectivity. The real challenge of fairness is whether or not those in power are really open to hearing the opposition.

I find there is a tendency in our setting, in the Central Texas Conference, to hear opposition as a personal threat. One person I know was asked why he wasn't "a team player" merely because he disagreed with the opinion of his superior on one particular matter. Does "being a team player" mean never disagreeing with the party line?

I'll keep you posted as to whether Parliamentary Procedure is a tool or a weapon in our setting.